The Coronavirus has forced sports to adopt unique measures to produce a playing season. Because a positive test could sideline a player for at least three weeks and there’s no way of projecting how many positive cases there will be during the NFL season, Footballguys wants to give you resources that will help you weather the potential loss of players.
As the author of the most comprehensive scouting analysis of skill players since 2006, I’m one of those resources—especially for players at the bottom of depth charts, signed to practice squads and training at home with dreams of that phone call from an NFL team.
Each week, I’ll walk you through the shortlist of players who will get their shot to contribute as replacements to starters who tested positive for the Coronavirus. We’ll examine three types of replacements:
- Players who get immediate playing time.
- Preemptive additions from your league’s waiver wire.
- Options worth monitoring in case the established backup eventually misses time.
If you don’t think street free agents won’t factor, Raheem Mostert is on line one waiting for you to pick up, and he has a long list of players before him who would like to make an appointment to set you straight.
Week 1-9 Review and Changes
It's been a strong seven weeks. Let's see if we can keep it going.
Here my brief thoughts and recommendations for previous players as we move forward. These are not in order of preference. If there's an asterisk (*), they've moved down a tier. If they have a number symbol (#) they have moved up:
- #Alfred Morris: Listed last week as a player to monitor, Morris' 67 yards on 9 touches against Washington is an indication that he's worth having on rosters as a weekend rental until Devonta Freeman returns to action.
- #Jordan Wilkins: Still, the No.2 "two-down runner" in this rotation behind Jonathan Taylor, he's worth paring with Taylor if you have the luxury. That's what I mentioned prior to last week's 100 yards from scrimmage and it makes him an immediate add for those with the luxury or need.
- #Jordan Howard: Howard did little, beyond a red-zone score. However, he could sustain this role for a few more weeks, even with Matt Breida practicing. He's still worth having as a desperation-add with points potential for any given weekend. Like Morris consider him a weekend rental.
- #Scott Miller: With Chris Godwin getting the cast off his hand to test his finger on Friday, it's likely that Godwin will miss another week or his playing time is limited. This keeps the window open for Miller to produce as a fantasy starter in Week 9.
- #JaMycal Hasty: I said Hasty needed an injury to have a sho but if he got on the field, he's good enough to leapfrog Jeffery Wilson and with Mostert and Wilson getting hurt again, that's exactly what happened last week, but he was only a contributor behind Jerick McKinnon on Thursday night.
- #Albert Okwuegbunam: Fant started in Week 8 but Okwuegbunam's lone target was a fourth-quarter end-zone target for a touchdown. He'll continue earning high-leverage targets in the red zone.
- Tua Tagovailoa: Earning his first start last weekend, the Dolphins jumped to an early lead and rendered the Rams useless enough that Tagovailoa didn't have to throw the ball enough for fantasy relevancy.
- Keelan Cole: Cole will be working with rookie quarterback Jake Luton when the Jaguars return from their bye week.
- Travis Fulgham: He's now considered the starting X receiver even when Alshon Jeffery returns. As long as he continues to play well, it's his gig, and he's playing well.
- D'Ernest Johnson: He's the depth you need while Nick Chubb is out and Kareem Hunt is the only option ahead of Johnson. Chubb could return as early as Week 10.
- Robert Tonyan Jr: Tonyan remains a viable option.
- Brett Rypien: The Broncos' third-stringer had an up-and-down box score output but showed enough to consider him a potential emergency value.
- Tim Patrick: Patrick has been nursing a minor injury and could play this week. If he does he will regain the Courtland Sutton role in this offense, which means a steady diet of vertical sideline shots 20-30 yards downfield that complement his talents.
- James Robinson: Now an established starter in 2020, Robinson shouldn't be a free agent in any format.
- #Jordan Reed: Two touchdowns and a primary role in the passing game got him the quick add weeks ago, but a knee injury put him on IR. He's healthy and earned some targets on Thursday night. He should be more involved in the coming weeks.
- *Lamar Miller: The Bears haven't called up Miller from the practice squad, but his experience and the Bears' need for depth makes Miller a preemptive option.
- #Dez Bryant: Officially signed to the team, Bryant should get a shot to see the field in a week or two, at most.
- Adam Shaheen: We'll see how much rapport he has with Tagovailoa over the next few weeks.
- David Irving: The Raiders protected Irving this weekend as the defensive end gets into football shape and learns the defense.
- Case Keenum: Baker Mayfield had another hopeful game against the woeful Cincinnati Bengals. The coaching staff endorsed Mayfield before the game. I'm not buying it until I see quality play against tougher opponents that make him do what he has struggled doing what decent starters do.
- *Mike Boone: With Dalvin Cook looking ready to play in Week 8, Boone is little more than a preemptive add this week in case something happens to Alexander Mattison late in the week.
- Byron Pringle: The Chiefs used Pringle during the fourth quarter with much greater frequency than Mecole Hardman. He earned 46 yards on 2 catches, bringing his total to 3 catches for 69 yards on 38 snaps and 3 targets during the past two games. He's worth a desperation flex-play if something happens to one of your receivers late in the week.
- Tyler Johnson: Johnson scored on his own target against the Packers last week, but Chris Godwin is getting healthy enough that Johnson is little more than an emergency flex-play for bye weeks.
- #Denzel Mims: Mims earned some vertical targets last week against the Chiefs and nearly converted one of them. The Jets offense will keep him no more than an inconsistent match-up play out of desperation, but Mims' talent keeps him on the list for consideration.
- #Gabriel Davis: Davis is a productive player when considering his role in the Bills' offense and will do a lot more if John Brown or Stefon Diggs get hurt.
- #Donovan Peoples-Jones: Shutout last week against the Raiders, keep in mind that Cleveland weather was windy and difficult for throwing the football.
- *Devonta Freeman: Despite limited touches, Freeman showed more juice than I think people realize. Freeman's ankle injury opened the doors for Wayne Gallman and Alfred Morris, who is now an option worth monitoring, but Freeman has practiced on a limited basis with a chance to play this weekend.
- *Alex Collins: He only earned a pair of touches. He looked pretty sharp in limited time but with Chris Carson on track to return in a couple of weeks and Travis Homer healthy, Collins could be relegated back to the practice squad. I see Collins staying active as the third back behind DeeJay Dallas and Homer, which means he could earn the No.2 role in a matter of 23- quarters, or his fantasy value completely disappears. There's also Bo Scarbrough, a big back who the team added back to its practice squad this week.
- *Hakeem Butler: After media speculation that he could earn playing time in recent weeks hasn't played out, he's the type of player you'll likely need to wait and see action before making a move.
- *Anthony Firkser: The Titans tight end was a non-factor against the Steelers.
- Reggie Bonnafon: Mike Davis performed to expectation and the Panthers added Trent Cannon to the active roster, a speedster who could eventually challenge Bonnafon.
- *Quintez Cephus: With Kenny Golladay back, Cephus is a contributor with potential for greater value if injuries strike again.
- *Mike Thomas: Auden Tate's squeaky wheel got not grease and John Ross has been a healthy scratch. This is important for Thomas because the Bengals rolled with draft capital and gave Tee Higgins a heavier dose of playing time. However, Thomas is still earning reps and if A.J. Green or Tyler Boyd gets hurt, he could get thrust into a starting role.
- Lamical Perine: He's still a limited participant in practices and splitting reserve reps with Kalen Ballage. See how his workload changes with Le'Veon Bell moving to the Chiefs.
- Marquez Callaway: With Emmanuel Sanders returning, Callaway's value likely dips but Mike Thomas's absence still gives Callaway enough targets for desperation adds prior to kickoff in deep leagues.
- *Jeff Smith: He's still worth monitoring like he was last week, but he only earned 8 yards on 4 targets despite earning 60 snaps against the Dolphins in Week 6.
- *Darwin Thompson: The addition of Le'Veon Bell may be as big of a statement about the reserve backs on the depth chart as it is the small deficiencies in Clyde Edwards-Helaire's game that make him an incomplete back at this stage of his young career.
- *Josh Adams: Adams is no longer a part of New York's rotation.
- *K.J. Hill: Jalen Guyton started in three-receiver sets and earned 1 target in 47 snaps for a 16-yard catch in Week 1 and caught a touchdown in Week 2. Hill has seen the field in Week 3 but dropped a pair of passes.
- *Jake Kumerow: Still learning the Bills offense after the Packers cut him, he'll remain on the practice squad. Continue monitoring Kumerow and expect him to be elevated to the active roster within the next 3-5 weeks.
- *Justin Watson: Despite the widespread ailments to the receiving corps, Watson has been a non-factor.
- *Isaiah Wright: He's a high-floor, low-ceiling option who might help as an extreme desperation play.
- *J.J. Taylor: Damien Harris' 100-yard effort, Rex Burkhead's hat-trick the week prior, and Jame White's imminent return make it obvious that Tylro is not worth considering at this time.
- *Olamide Zaccheaus: Brandon Powell and Russell Gage are earning opportunities ahead of Zaccheaus
- *Collin Johnson: He was a non-factor last week and remains a hit-or-miss target.
Let's look at this week's recommendations.
Add Now: Richie James
The Skinny on James: The two people at Footballguys that I know have been avid fans of James are me and Daniel Simpkins. A dynamic athlete with a Curtis Samuel-like role at Middle Tennessee State, James earned a Rotational Starter grade in the 2018 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. Here's an excerpt of the sample report on James available at my site:
I’m sharing this mini-essay on my decision-making process because I have a strong feeling about Richie James. If you believe that intuition is the confluence of your logic and emotions processing knowledge and experience at a rapid rate, then it would make sense that the longer I do this work, the more likely my intuition will get stronger...
...As I sit here writing this profile, I have a feeling that James has the potential to become a much better player than his draft status. Some of the similarities that James and Antonio Brown share at this stage of their careers are intriguing.
Logically speaking, the odds of another player taking the path of Brown in the NFL are low. There was also a healthy gap between the college version of Brown and the NFL version. Projecting another player to make that leap is not a healthy expectation.
However, I am comfortable saying that James is an underrated prospect with skills that will make him a productive NFL contributor and potentially a starter. That’s the logical assessment...
...James played multiple spots at Middle Tennessee State, including the slot, the perimeter, and the backfield. When used outside, he showed a lot of promise against tight man coverage. He could reduce the shoulder from a defender’s reach, chop through contact, or hook the defender to a side and swim over him. I’ve even seen a rip move, but I didn’t judge it effective enough to give him credit. He did a lot of this work with three-step and rocker-step release techniques.
Combine these skills with acceleration and change of direction quickness on par with Brown, and you have a player who can get on top of defenders and win in the vertical game. James’ dimensions and workout metrics are similar to Brown (see the Underrated section of the 2018 Rookie Scouting Portfolio for more)—and the fact he’s already using a variety of moves to get off the line of scrimmage is promising.
James' greatest opportunity for development is his route running...These are all correctable issues and, when one examines James’ portfolio it’s difficult to ignore the number of things he’s doing correctly to earn the top tier as a pass-catcher. We often intuitively presume that the top tier of performance is perfection when it’s actually an abundance of positive traits...
After the catch, James is one of the best in this class. Middle Tennessee State often featured him from the backfield between the tackles despite the fact that he’s 5-10, 183 pounds—and likely was a little shorter and lighter when he began his college career...
...If my gut is correct about James and he lands on a team with a gifted improviser under center and a skilled coordinator that will use James as the versatile playmaker he is, the path to a starting role is promising. If he ends up with a task-oriented quarterback and a coaching mind that recognizes James’ potential but either lacks the skill to fully integrate into the scheme or doesn’t address his shortcomings, James’ career arc may look more like Albert Wilson’s in Kansas City.
I’m thinking there’s a place in between these two poles and, based on the more dispassionate look at the components of James’ game, I’m leaning closer to the positive end of that range but not Brown territory.
Think of James as an aspiring Doug Baldwin. Again, aspirations generally aren’t met, but if he gets close, he’ll be a capable starter as a big-play secondary starter or high-volume slot option who will wind up worth his RSP pre-draft value.
James hasn't earned a lot of playing time in the 49ers offense. He's been a special teams option and a spot contributor in the slot. It wasn't until the 49ers ran out of receiving options due to injury and illness that James got the shot to deliver 184 yards and a score against the Packers last week, displaying his big-play skills.
The 49ers use a lot of high-end athletes at wide receiver. The outside receivers all have size, strength, and speed but they lack well-rounded games. They're all space running backs with limited route trees. The two players who didn't fit these criteria were Dante Pettis and Emmanuel Sanders.
While I'm not saying that Kyle Shanahan ran Pettis out of town for bad reasons (more on this later...), Shanahan told the media in recent weeks they wouldn't have made the Super Bowl without Sanders. This is what I've been writing for months in my Gut Check columns during the offseason and sharing on podcasts.
Sanders was the only complete receiver this team had and they let him walk. Although there are other reasons for the 49ers' 2020 demise, I didn't believe this team would win its division without Sanders on the roster.
James doesn't fit Shanahan's template for starting receivers, so I wonder how James might do with another team if Shanahan decides to put the genie back into the bottle. With Deebo Samuel ailing this week, it's unlikely this happens in Week 10.
Recommendation: Nick Mullens is clearly comfortable with James, who earned his career-game last week while dealing with an ankle injury that had him taped heavily. With both players likely to see the field again, James is worth another start and, while unlikely, could force his way into the lineup for multiple weeks.
Preemptive: Austin Mack
The Skinny on Mack: A rookie from Ohio State, Mack's injury-riddled college career limited a talented player from earning a higher draft capital. Mack earned a high-end contributor grade in the 2020 Rookie Scouting Portfolio:
Mack is a good receiver with a chance to get better in the NFL. His speed is just inside my range for starter tier, and he's a skilled route runner with excellent hands. If he's not drafted within the first three rounds—which is unlikely—he'll probably begin his NFL career on coverage duty for punts and kickoffs. He'd faced some top prospects at cornerback and beaten them and had an impressive work week at the Senior Bowl...
...Mack is especially good at pinning off-coverage defenders into a bad position with [baiting defenders into reaching for breaks that aren't going to come] on the speed out...Tight coverage and contact don't faze Mack and he'll even make full-extension dives in these situations and win the ball...
...Due to his lack of career production at Ohio State and an injury history that kept him off the field for lengths of time, Mack is likely a third-day value. The skills are there to build on and the talent is available to make it happen.
According to Giants.com, Mack has earned praise from the Giant's coaching staff since his first day with the team. He's been inquisitive, detailed, and organized with classroom preparation, works around the clock at his craft, and takes hard coaching with a positive attitude. With Golden Tate coming off a benching due to disciplinary reasons. Essentially, Tate has stopped acting like a professional.
Recommendation: With this situation likely coming to a head between Tate and the team, and Mack earning 72 yards on 5 grabs against a tough Washington defense, Mack could earn the starting role down the stretch. Well-prepared players with a positive attitude and talent have an enhanced opportunity for success. Mack fits this description.
Monitor: Bryan Edwards, Mack Hollins, And Dante Pettis
The Skinny on Edwards: The Raiders rookie had the most impressive camp among its first-year receivers and earned a significant on-field role before getting hurt in Week 3 and missing the past four games and only earning one snap in Week 9. He has practiced this week and should be ready for a larger share of snaps if the Raiders wish to give him the 45-50 snaps he earned during the first two weeks of the year.
Considering that Edwards' production was on the rise before he missed the second half of the Patriots game, there's no Las Vegas won't want him back on the field. He's a big and strong ball-winner with impressive skills in the open field with the ball in his hands, and Derek Carr noted the easy rapport that they had during the summer, comparing it to what he shared with Davante Adams at Fresno State.
Recommendation: Nelson Agholor and Henry Ruggs III offer the big-play suddenness and can win the ball in the air when necessary, but Carr can routinely lean on that element of Edwards' game in ways he wouldn't try with the other two. The greatest obstacle for Edwards is his priority in the passing game. With Agholor, Waller, and Ruggs figuring prominently, Edwards could wind up a promising but limited option without an injury.
The Skinny on Hollins: A special team maven at North Carolina with size, strength, and skill to win the football, the Eagles drafted Hollins, giving him at least 30 snaps in 12 games during his first two healthy years with the team. When he earned over 50 snaps with the offense in 2019, he earned 15 targets, 9 catches, and 112 yards.
He's a well-built receiver skill for tracking the football. Last week, he earned a red-zone target against the Cardinals, converting on a red-zone fade for an 11-yard score after Preston Williams injured his foot. With Williams on injured reserve, Hollins should earn more snaps as the outside receiver opposite DeVante Parker.
Recommendation: While I'm not expecting much from Hollins, he's in the right role for production and with a young and creative quarterback who will probably distribute the ball to the open man, especially when buying time in the pocket. If Hollins earns a large snap count and significant targets this weekend against the Chargers, he could be worth a preemptive addition if those targets include more red-zone work, third-down opportunities, and tight-coverage shots.
The Skinny on Pettis: My top-ranked receiver in the 2018 Scouting Portfolio, essentially tied with Calvin Ridley in grade and both slightly higher than D.J. Moore, Pettis started his career strong, but he didn't work hard enough during the offseason preceding this second year to please the hard coaching style of Shanahan. He arrived out of shape, got dinged, and never emerged from Shanahan's doghouse.
You know the deal. You also know that Shanahan told the media that Pettis had the talent to be one of the best receivers in the league. This is something that naysayers to Pettis' talent like to leave out of the equation when they say they didn't think he was that good out of college.
Pettis is an athletic option after the catch and at the catch point. He has to become more physical with releases against tight man coverage and sharpen his routes to meet the needs of his quarterback rather than leaning as much on creativity that can bleed into undisciplined play.
Now a Giant, Pettis has been signed to the active roster after a week on the practice squad. The disciplinary action that was taken against Golden Tate and the chilly welcome upon his return could signal the Giants ready to move on.
Recommendation: While it seems straight-forward that Pettis was immature and he's 100 percent responsible for losing Kyle Shanahan's trust in Pettis making good on his talent, this could be a case where Shanahan letting Pettis go was the best thing for Pettis long-term.
Over 30 years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles drafted a fourth-round receiver with first-round talent in 1987's Supplemental Draft. During his first two years with the Eagles, he earned 43 receptions, 845 yards, and 8 touchdowns and followed up with another 45 catches, 11 scores, and 605 yards during his third season
A massively productive red-zone player, Cris Carter wasn't living up to his potential and Buddy Ryan cut him before his fourth season due to alcohol and drug abuse. Carter became one of the greatest receivers in NFL history and credits that tough love for helping him salvage his career.
I know nothing about Dante Pettis' life off the field and it would be wrong to speculate he has a substance abuse issue. However, it's clear that Shanahan didn't think Pettis was focused on becoming the best football player he could be.
If Pettis learns his lesson and works at his craft, he can become a 1,000-yard receiver who scores 7-10 touchdowns a year. I have either kept or re-added Pettis in dynasty leagues. It makes little sense to add Pettis in re-draft leagues unless you have a roster packed with enough good starting talent that your backups would be starters on other teams, and you want a luxury pick capable of massive upside.
Keep an eye on Pettis to see if he's playing mistake-free and physical football. If he does, it's a good sign that he's learning his lesson and worth a preemptive pickup.